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Name Journeys: Worlds and Lives Analysis

Name Journeys was written by Raman Mundair and first published in 2003. Mundair was born in Punjab, India, and her family emigrated to Manchester when she was a young child in the 1970s. They later moved to Loughborough, and as an adult, she has settled in Scotland.

The poem references three Hindu deities:

Hindu DeityProfile
RamaThe seventh avatar of the god Vishnu. He is a widely worshipped deity, who symbolises virtue and chivalry. Rama is married to Sita and faced numerous challenges, such as when Sita was abducted by the demon king, Ravana. Rama battled Ravana to secure Sita’s freedom.
SitaA goddess married to Rama, Sita embodies courage, purity, dedication and self-sacrifice. Her story is narrated in the Hindu epic, Ramayana. In some versions of the tale, she undergoes a trial by fire to prove her chastity.

The belief was that fire, being pure and sacred, would not harm the innocent. Therefore, if Sita were pure and had remained faithful to Rama during her time with Ravana, the fire god Agni would protect her from the flames.

The outcome of the trial, where Sita emerges unscathed, is seen as divine validation of her purity and faithfulness. It’s a symbolic representation that her devotion and loyalty to Rama were unwavering, and therefore, she was protected by the divine element of fire.
DraupadiThe central female character in the epic Mahabharata, Draupadi is married to the five Pandava brothers. She is known for her strong character, beauty and polyandrous marriage (when a woman has more than one husband).

Draupadi became an empress and bore a son to each of her husbands. In one story, a prince called Duhshasana attempts to disrobe her publicly to humiliate her. However, Draupadi prays to Lord Krishna, who miraculously provides her with an unending cloth, thus protecting her honour.

Poem Summary

The narrator compares her life to those of Hindu deities. She mentions facing similar challenges as Rama, but without a companion like Rama’s wife, Sita. Like Sita, she has endured an ordeal by fire. The narrator then shifts focus to her move to England and how her name travelled with her.

This transition was challenging as she struggled to adapt to the English language and English people often mispronounced her name. In her new country, she felt pressured to embrace English culture, seemingly at the expense of her Indian heritage.

The poem’s key message:

The poem illustrates the clash between different cultures and the challenges an immigrant faces in settling into a new country while trying to retain the cultural heritage of their birthplace.

Language

Language featureExamples and the effect of this
MetaphorThe narrator uses a metaphor to express her life’s challenges, referring to herself as being “chastened/ through trial by fire”. This suggests she has faced harsh judgment and suffering.

Another metaphor highlights the impact of migration on her cultural identity; she describes her “woven tapestries of journeys”. Tapestries are a form of textile art, and they often depict stories. This metaphor expresses how her experiences and travels are interwoven to form the complete narrative of her life.
SibilanceMundair uses sibilance (the repetition of ‘s’ sounds) in the phrase:

“Sita and I,
spiritual sari-sisters entwined
in an infinite silk”

This use of sibilance links these words and emphasises the deep connection between Hindu culture, the concept of sisterhood, and the narrator’s identity.
Semantic field of soundAt the end of the poem, various descriptions of sound highlight the linguistic barriers she faces in Manchester. She struggles to speak “the rough musicality of Mancunian vowels”.

When English people pronounce her name, it becomes a “discordant rhyme, an exotic/rhythm dulled”. This illustrates that the disconnect in language she experiences goes beyond mere words. The pronunciation, rhythm and intrinsic beauty of her name are “dulled” when mispronounced, signifying a deeper cultural disconnection.

Structure

  • The first twelve lines focus on her Hindu culture and the trials she has faced in her life.
  • The last twelve lines explore the difficulty of migrating to England and the cultural shifts she experienced.

Form

  • The poem is a ghazal, a type of Indian poetry that often focuses on painful loss or separation. It is written in a series of couplets, which is typical for a ghazal.
  • There is no set rhythm or rhyme pattern, and the Gundair uses a lot of enjambment. This perhaps mirrors her global journeys, as the sentences travel over different lines.
  • Written in the first person, the poem conveys the narrator’s personal feelings about her past experiences and her sense of identity.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
IdentityThe narrator explores how migration has affected her sense of identity. Despite moving to England at a young age, before her “milk teeth fell”, she maintains a strong connection to her Hindu culture.

She identifies with the Hindu deities she mentions and uses imagery like “banyan leaves” and “sugar cane” (both indigenous to India) to describe her name.

In England, she faces challenges in preserving her heritage due to the “Anglo echo chamber”, a metaphor for an environment where English culture is predominant and other cultures are marginalised.
GenderThe narrator uses Hindu deities to explore her identity as a woman. She celebrates the concept of sisterhood, imagining herself and Sita as “spiritual sari-sisters entwined”.

She further extends the imagery to “silk that would swathe/ Draupadi’s blush”, referencing the story where Draupadi is protected from dishonour. This symbolises how sisterhood can be a powerful force in a patriarchal society.
DisconnectionThe narrator experiences cultural disconnection after migrating to England. Her transition involves adopting aspects of English culture, part of the “tapestries” of her life. However, she faces challenges in adapting to the new culture and language, as “Punjabi in my mouth/became dislodged” and she struggles with “the rough musicality of Mancunian vowels”.

Her voice remains “a mystery” compared to native English accents, and her name is often mispronounced, highlighting her sense of disconnection from English culture.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“Sita and I,/ spiritual sari-sisters entwined/ in an infinite silk”The narrator’s Hindu culture is very important to her. She identifies strongly with the goddess Sita and feels a sense of sisterhood due to their shared difficulties.
“woven tapestries of journeys”The narrator’s life is depicted as a fabric woven from her diverse experiences across different places. This imagery encapsulates the story of her life, marked by her journeys.
“my voice a mystery/ in the Anglo echo chamber”The narrator expresses her struggle to fit into English culture, which tends to overlook non-English norms and experiences.

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